European Union - POLSKA УКРАЇНА

Russia Embraces Quarantine Tactics Amid Coronavirus Surge

Russia tightened controls aimed at combating the spread of the coronavirus on Monday, with Moscow introducing temporary quarantine measures, and the Kremlin moving to extend the lockdown nationwide. The new restrictions came as President Vladimir Putin discussed the coronavirus, among other issues, with President Donald Trump in a phone call that the Kremlin insisted was at Washington’s request.The conversation came as Putin made clear he recognized the growing threat of the COVID-19 outbreak. He appeared for his second televised national address on the issue Monday afternoon with a new sense of urgency.“If you value your life, you should remain home,” he said, addressing elderly Russians, in particular. “God helps those who help themselves,” added the Russian leader. A doctor observes through a glass window the condition of the patient in a ward in the Moscow Sklifosovsky emergency hospital in Moscow, Russia, March 25, 2020.The new tone came as a  government task force said suspected cases of COVID-19 had swelled past the 1,800 mark with nine deaths — numbers that continued to place Russia far lower than other global coronavirus hotspots but that Kremlin allies and critics alike now acknowledge reflect some degree of underreporting.Moscow through the looking glass  Under new rules that went into effect midnight Sunday, the vast majority of Moscow’s 15 million inhabitants now face a blanket “home isolation quarantine” — with exceptions for trips to local supermarkets and pharmacies, as well as walking pets or taking out trash. A police officer wearing a protective mask and glasses stops a car driver to check his documents in Grozny, Russia, March 30, 2020.City authorities also announced that a system of smart QR codes would be developed to track people moving about the capital, as well as plans to retrofit additional public hospitals and private clinics to accept COVID-19 patients.“The situation with the spread of coronavirus has entered a new phase,” Mayor Sergey Sobyanin wrote in a blog post explaining the new rules with Moscow now an epicenter of the virus threat.  “The extremely negative turn of events that we see in the largest cities of Europe and the USA is cause for enormous concern for the lives and health of our citizens,” Sobyanin said.Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin later issued an appeal to Russia’s far-flung regional governors to follow Moscow’s lead — calling the quarantine a “logical extension of the president and the government’s policies to battle the coronavirus.” Putin’s ‘workless week’Moscow’s restrictions seemed to upstage the “workless week” introduced by Putin in an address to the nation last week.While the Russian leader requested people to stay home, his appeal fell far short of the quarantines and self-isolation measures now commonplace in cities across Europe, the United States and Asia.Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with Russian regional officials via videoconference at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, March 30, 2020.Some Russians seemed to interpret the “workless week” as an unexpected paid vacation — a factor that Sobyanin said played a role in the decision to close Moscow down. “Movement across the city has been cut by two-thirds, and that’s very good,” Sobaynin wrote in the blog. “But it’s also obvious that far from everyone has heard us.” Amid a spell of spring-like weather over the weekend, parks were so crowded that authorities resorted to blasting public service announcements from passing ambulances. The message: Go home. Media reports also noted a run on meat and charcoal at local supermarkets, suggesting the outdoor barbecue season was, or soon would be, in full swing.  Meanwhile, there was a spike in booked flights from Moscow to the southern resort city of Sochi — so much so that the region’s local governor, Benjamin Kondratiev, warned on social media that “this is not a week of extra leave or a holiday,” and ordered city attractions closed.  Good cop, bad copRussia’s political chatter centered on the seeming gulf between Sobyanin and Putin over how to respond to the contagion.  Had the mayor undermined the president? And who was in charge?“The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing,” Genady Gudkov, a former member of Parliament with ties to the opposition, wrote in a post on Facebook. “Either Putin is losing control, or differences among the elite are dangerously strong.”Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin attends a cabinet meeting with Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin in Moscow, Russia, March 30, 2020.Others argued that Putin was merely distancing himself from more unpopular restrictions — at least until they were trial-ballooned by the hapless Moscow mayor — in effect, playing good cop to Sobyanin’s bad. Putin threw Sobyanin “before the firing squad, and himself remained in the shadows, giving speculation that Sobyanin is acting on his own,” wrote Tatiana Stanovaya, a political analyst with R.Politik, in a post to her Telegram channel. Stanovaya chalked the showdown to the shifting improvisational nature of Putin’s rule, one in which “circumstances rule.” “And who rules the circumstances, rules Russia,” added Stanovaya.

Spain Postpones 5G Spectrum Auction Due To Coronavirus

Spain will delay a planned auction of 5G spectrum due to the coronavirus outbreak, the government said on Monday.
As part of a Europe-wide drive to speed up the roll out of fast Internet and broaden coverage, Spain had been due to free up space in the 700 MHz band of its network by switching from analog to digital terrestrial television by June 30.
One of the world’s worst national outbreaks of the virus, which had infected 85,915 people and killed 7,340 as of Monday, constitutes force majeure, making it impossible to stick to that deadline, the government said in a statement.
Madrid has told Brussels it will set a new deadline for the 700 MHz band depending on the eventual end-date for emergency measures including restrictions on people’s movements, it added.
Austria postponed a planned 5G auction last week, and the CEO of French group Iliad said one coming up in France would likely meet the same fate. 

Ukraine Parliament Approves New Finance, Health Ministers

Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, has approved new finance and health ministers in a second vote after the government failed to cobble together enough support in an initial vote earlier on March 30.Serhiy Marchenko, who was previously a deputy finance minister and deputy head of the presidential office of former leader Petro Poroshenko, was approved by lawmakers to replace Ihor Umanskiy, who had been in office for less than a month before he was fired earlier in the day.Parliament also voted to approve former Odesa Governor Maksym Stepanov as the new health minister to replace Illya Yemets, who like Umanskiy was only weeks into his mandate before being fired on March 30.At an extraordinary session on March 30, lawmakers also approved the first reading of a new banking law that was needed to qualify for some $5.5 billion in funding from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).The banking law prevents the state returning a nationalized bank to its former owner. The IMF is said to have insisted upon approval of the law amid signs the government was considering returning PrivatBank, which is in the midst of a major legal and political fight involving its former co-owner, billionaire Ihor Kolomoyskiy.The bank was nationalized in 2016 when international auditors found a $5.5 billion hole in its balance sheet; Kolomoisky, who has close ties to Zelenskiy, has insisted that the bank was improperly nationalized by Ukrainian regulators.Umanskiy and Yemets became ministers on March 4 when parliament approved President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s cabinet shuffle.A reason for their firing was not given.Marchenko was proposed as the new finance minister, but in the first vote his approval fell three ballots shy of the 226 needed in the legislature. The second vote saw him easily pass the threshold with 256 votes.Lawmakers also failed to approve the first reading of a revised state budget for 2020. The budget draft, which adjusts the states finances to reflect the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, will now return to lawmakers for revision.

Why Northern Italy Crematoria Are Overwhelmed with COVID-19 Dead

With the Italian death toll from coronavirus passing 10,000, the country’s crematoria, especially in the northern region of Lombardy, are overwhelmed and are having to transport bodies to crematoria in other regions. More families of coronavirus victims are choosing cremation over burial, for fear of catching the virus from the dead.  The number of corpses arriving at crematoria in the north of Italy has doubled since the coronavirus outbreak began and the plants in the north of Italy are overwhelmed, even those that work seven days a week, 24 hours a day.  Altair is Italy’s leading company in crematoria, with 17 plants, mainly in the north of Italy.  Michele Marinelli, spokesman for Altair, said this emergency situation has caused a level of saturation in the plants that has never been seen before.Marinelli said cremation takes place for all the corpses for which the dead person or his relatives have requested it. The problem now is, he added, that in some areas of the north of the country, cremations have exceeded 50-60 percent, that is for every 100 deaths, 50-60 cremations are requested.Coffins arriving from the Bergamo area are being unloaded from a military truck that transported them in the cemetery of Cinisello Balsamo, near Milan in Northern Italy, March 27, 2020.Marinelli said in areas like Bergamo and Brescia where the number of dead has been particularly high, army trucks had to be called in to assist to take the corpses to other regions where they could be cremated.Relatives of those killed by COVID-19 are also unable to grieve for their loved ones as they would like to.In addition to the death of someone in the family, which is in itself dramatic, Marinelli noted that there is also the impossibility of being able to bid farewell to them by holding a funeral. He said this is a situation that Italy has never experienced.Relatives attend a burial ceremony of victims of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the southern town of Cisternino, Italy, March 30, 2020.Since the outbreak of coronavirus in Italy, the government has put a stop to funerals and religious ceremonies, in an effort to stop the spread of the virus.There is no ban on burials – but many families choose cremation instead, due to the slim but not impossible chance that the virus from the dead body could still infect the living.  Even families who choose burial are faced with a difficult situation.  Italy’s cemeteries are as overwhelmed as the cremation centers, with the backlog of bodies to be buried growing by the day.   

Jobless UK Flight Attendants Asked to Work as Medical Staff 

Laid off airline cabin crew staff in Britain are being asked to work in temporary hospitals to help treat COVID-19 patients. Budget airline easyJet and Virgin Atlantic are writing to thousands of staff with first aid training to help out. Meanwhile, easyJet said it was grounding all its 344 aircraft due to the collapse in demand for flights. Airlines had already canceled the vast majority of their flights. South Korea will provide as much as 1 million won ($817) in gift certificates or electronic coupons to all but the richest 30% of households to help ease the financial shock of the coronavirus outbreak.   The outbreak of the coronavirus has dealt a shock to the global economy with unprecedented speed. Following are developments on Monday related to the global economy, the work place and the spread of the virus.  Repurposing staff: Britain’s health service is asking airline cabin crew who have been laid off during the coronavirus pandemic to go to work in temporary new hospitals being built to treat COVID-19 patients. The National Health Service says easyJet and Virgin Atlantic are writing to thousands of staff — especially those with first aid training — asking them to work at hospitals being built inside convention centers in London, Birmingham and Manchester. It said those who sign up will perform support roles under the supervision of doctors and nurses.  Airlines: European budget airline easyJet says it is grounding all of its 344 aircraft amid a collapse in demand. It said there was “no certainty of the date for restarting commercial flights.” The carrier based in Luton, England, had already canceled most of its flights and said it has reached an agreement with unions on furlough arrangements for its cabin crew. Many airlines around the world are negotiating or calling for financial rescue packages from governments. Easyjet said it was in talks with financial liquidity providers. Britain’s government has so far demurred from creating a rescue package for aviation but has said it is ready for negotiations with individual firms once they had “exhausted other options.” Scottish regional airline Loganair said it expects to ask for a government bailout. ___ Handouts: South Korea will provide as much as 1 million won ($817) in gift certificates or electronic coupons to all but the richest 30% of households to help ease the financial shock of the coronavirus outbreak. The country will spend around 9.1 trillion won ($7.4 billion) on the one-time giveaways, which will reach 14 million households. Officials are ruling out handouts of cash. South Korea’s has employed a variety of financial tools to support its economy in face of the global health crisis, such as cutting its policy rate to an all-time low, expanding short-term loans for financial institutions and introducing a rescue package for companies totaling 100 trillion won ($81.7 billion). 

Britain on Emergency Footing for First Time Since WWII

Britain is on an emergency footing for the first time since World War II. The move means the British government is setting up what it calls strategic coordination centers across the U.K. to distribute supplies to citizens to help combat the coronavirus outbreak.  There are more than 22,000 British confirmed cases of coronavirus – Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prince Charles are among them. More than 1,200 have died. The government’s deputy chief medical officer says the lockdown could last as long as six months but says if people do as they’re told and conditions improve, the lockdown and other restrictions can start to be eased.Prince Charles tests positive for Coronavirus. Prince Charles, The Prince of Wales, Patron of the Intelligence Agencies, visits the Headquarters of GCHQ, on July, 12, 2019.In Moscow, the lockdown is just getting started. Mayor Sergei Sobyanin says beginning Monday, people will be allowed out of their homes only to shop for food and medicine, takeout the garbage, walk the dog, or for urgent medical care. Police will issue special passes to those who cannot work from home. Moscow reports 1,000 cases and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church is telling worshippers to pray at home “before someone dies.”  While the number of cases in Italy – the European epicenter – slowed slightly for the second straight day Sunday, Spain’s death toll rose 838 overnight Sunday – a record climb for that country which, like Italy, remains on total lockdown.  In Asia, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked that country’s poor to forgive him for the difficulties that country’s lockdown is causing them. He acknowledged the steps he ordered are harsh and knows people are angry with him.  “But these tough measures were needed to win this battle,” he said Sunday. With a population of 1.3 billion, India’s lockdown is by far the world’s largest, leaving countless millions with no food or homes. Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, is banning public gathering of more than two people. The state government says people should leave their homes only under “exceptional circumstances.” Australia’s nationwide death toll stands at 4,000.A nurse speaks with patients at the door of a new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) clinic opening at Mount Barker Hospital in Adelaide, Australia, March 17, 2020.Syria Sunday reported its first confirmed coronavirus death, but human rights groups warn of a looming catastrophe, saying the country’s war-torn health care system is ill-equipped to handle an outbreak among refugees.  Also Sunday, U.S. President Donald Trump has extended the government’s recommended guidelines for social distancing for another 30 days. The U.S. has the world’s biggest number of confirmed cases. Finally, in Brazil, a federal judge has banned the government’s social media campaign that downplayed the coronavirus threat. President Jair Bolsonaro’s “Brazil Can’t Stop” campaign said there was no need for most Brazilians to lock down inside their homes. “I’m sorry, some people will die, they will die, that’s life,” Bolsonaro said in a television interview. 

Belarus Does Not Give Up on Football

Football leagues around the world have canceled soccer games for the foreseeable future as one of the measures to slow a rapid COVID-19 spread. But soccer, or football, as it is called in much of the world, continues to be played in Belarus where the number of confirmed infections is still relatively low.The country’s autocratic leader Alexander Lukashenko has dismissed the virus scare as overblown and has advised his people to continue business as usual, especially agriculture. Local media published photos of the Belarus president playing ice hockey.Top Belarusian football division, Vysheyshaya Liga, is run by the Belarusian Football Federation and currently includes 16 teams. The country has never excelled in soccer and has never qualified for the World Cup or the European football championships.But with sports fans around the world deprived of their favorite pastime, Belarus is getting attention and signing broadcasting contracts with a growing number of countries to carry their games. People in India and Israel, not just neighboring Russia, could soon become familiar with members of teams such as FC Minsk or Dinamo Minsk and their individual styles.Belarus soccer fans hope the exposure will inspire their teams to play better and qualify for the next UEFA (The Union of European Football Associations) champions league. UEFA Championship is also known as the European Cup.The spokesman for the Belarus Football Federation Aleksandr Aleinik said the organization is respecting the recommendations by the Sports Ministry.  “All those who are in contact with fans were given protective gloves,” he said. But images of fans from some of the games Saturday show very few wearing masks and some of them cheering without any shirts on.The outbreak of coronavirus in Italy has been especially deadly for the northern city of Bergamo. The unprecedented toll has been traced to a February football match in Milan. More than 2,000 fans traveled from Bergamo to Milan to watch the Atlanta vs. Valencia match at Milan’s San Siro Stadium February 19. As they chanted in the packed stadium it is believed they picked up the new coronavirus strain and took it home to Bergamo. Two days later, Italy confirmed the first case of locally transmitted COVID-19.  Six weeks later, Italy reported that the number of deaths from the coronavirus had topped 10,000. Bergamo is struggling to bury and cremate the number of bodies after several hundred people sometimes die in one day.   European football leagues have canceled local soccer matches until at least the end of April to help slow the rapid spread of COVID-19. The European championship has been postponed until the summer of 2021 because the domestic competition cannot be completed in time for this summer.Most European countries have locked their borders and ordered closures of schools and all but essential businesses. People are asked to stay at home, gather in very limited numbers, sometimes no more than two, and keep a distance from others when they have to go out. In some cases, governments have imposed strict measures such as curfews and mandatory quarantine.  But measures vary from country to country.  In Sweden, restaurants and bars in some cities seemed as lively this month as ever, with the government allowing people to choose how to protect themselves. Schools, day care centers, gyms and beauty salons remained open even as they closed in neighboring Denmark and Norway.  The government announced tougher measures last week after the number of infections and COVID-19 deaths suddenly soared.  But Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said you cannot legislate everything and that individuals also have to take responsibility.Some experts also say that it is counterproductive to impose measures that cannot be sustained for a long period of time. Meanwhile, ordinary people in countries hit by the virus may have to weigh daily the pros and cons of stepping out of the house for weeks or months yet to come.   

Trump Says US Will not pay for Security Protection for Prince Harry

President Donald Trump said on Sunday that the United States would not pay for security protection for Britain’s Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, who, according to media reports, have settled in Los Angeles.Trump wrote on Twitter that “now they have left Canada for the U.S. however, the U.S. will not pay for their security protection. They must pay!” In January, the couple said they would step away from their royal duties.